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Hard lessons in the struggle to end prison slavery

September 1, 2016

by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington

“Rather than the slaughtering of Black people outright, the prison system carries out genocide through political repression. Mass incarceration works to prevent the emergence of effective, powerful and widely inspiring movements for liberation, like those of the 1960s and 1970s. It thereby goes beyond controlling and disabling Black communities. By preventing their access to economic and political power, it blocks their meaningful survival into future generations.” – Laura Whitehorn, “Black Power Incarcerated: Political Prisoners, Genocide, and the State,” Socialism and Democracy 2014, Volume 28, Number 3

Keith ‘Malik’ Washington

Keith ‘Malik’ Washington

Revolutionary greetings, comrades! Well, here we are the month of September 2016. I thought it would never arrive.

I opened this essay with a quote from a super intelligent “bad ass” revolutionary named Laura Whitehorn. Laura is a white womyn who has been down with “the struggle” for decades – a truly dedicated servant of the people. If you read and internalize her words, you will have no choice but to “feel” where she is coming from. She has been where we are; she knows “the enemy.”

Crush the anti-prison slavery movement!

Oh, don’t get it twisted, these prison profiteers and imperialist oppressors aren’t feeling the recent show of power and solidarity among prisoners throughout AmeriKKKa. In the same manner, the FBI’s COINTELPRO sought to thwart the emergence of a Black Messiah, mass incarceration in Amerika seeks to sabotage the emergence of any movement which challenges the capitalist-imperialist plan to lock up, exploit, disenfranchise, poison and in some cases even kill the poorest cross-section of Amerikan society.

Of course, racism plays a part in all this, but the real war pertains to class. Why lock up the lower class poor? I have an answer, if you choose to listen.

If you analyze the political and social landscape in Amerika, the most revolutionary elements come from the poor masses and classes. However, it is the lumpen-underclass who are trapped in Amerikan prisons, and it is this class that possesses the most revolutionary potential – a potential which is so powerful it could change the entire system which currently oppresses and exploits the world.

The state is keenly aware of that until recently – dormant potential. That is why law enforcement and intelligence agencies have formed “partnerships” with prison officials in order to identify, target and destroy all movements and any individual who has defined herself or himself as a leader in the struggle for liberation.

Racism plays a part in all this, but the real war pertains to class. Why lock up the lower class poor?

I arrived here on the Coffield Unit approximately one year ago. Upon my arrival, I was notified that I was forbidden to speak, teach or be a part of any committee in the Islamic Community here on Coffield. I had been labelled as a snitch and a radical Islamic extremist.

These lies were a part of a strategy by TDCJ Chaplain Akbar Shabazz and STG (Security Threat Group Department) to derail my efforts to educate, motivate and organize prisoners. I have not spoken to my Muslim brothers through words but with the help of the Bay View and a host of dedicated free-world supporters, my voice has been heard and now it will take a nation of millions to hold us back!

I have earned the admiration and respect of my brothers here on Coffield and thousands of men and wimmin throughout Texas and across the United States. What started out as a curse turned out to be a blessing.

Repression is real!

Comrades, for the past year I have been so busy exposing these oppressors that I barely had time to tell anyone about the obstacles and hardships I faced personally while in the midst of the struggle. I want to share some of these experiences with you in the hope that you may learn from them.

Before I go into that, I want all of you to remember that there are numerous political prisoners throughout Amerika who continue to have their freedom denied. Some, like Comrade Mumia Abu Jamal, have become victims of state repression and campaigns orchestrated to silence his voice. What is it about Abu Jamal’s words and voice that the authorities find so threatening? Abu Jamal does not advocate violence; he does not use profanity – so what is it?

Mumia Abu Jamal is one of those rare individuals who can reach across the boundaries of race, class and gender and unify us all in solidarity against an imperialist system whose mantra is “profit by any means!” A system which does not care if it destroys the planet earth. A system which promotes, sanctions and condones the murder of 12-year-olds while they play in the park! A system that attempts to demonize and criminalize the Black Lives Matter Movement. Mumia made the call and I answered not through words but through action!

My personal circumstances pale in comparison to Mumia’s as he fights for medical treatment for Hepatitis C. My pain and thirst for freedom is not the same as Sundiata Acoli, Jalil Muntaqim, Mutulu Shakur, Abdullah Majid, Oscar Lopez and Leonard Peltier. I can only imagine the pain and suffering they face every day after being incarcerated for decades – buried alive as my close friend Michael “Basir” Lane would say.

Mumia Abu Jamal is one of those rare individuals who can reach across the boundaries of race, class and gender and unify us all in solidarity against an imperialist system whose mantra is “profit by any means!”

And then there are the faceless and nameless thousands who have fallen prey to the so called “War on Terror” or “War on Drugs.” Jeffrey Battle, aka Ahmed Ali, and Patrice “Lumumba” Ford, aka Abdullah, two freedom fighters who have been falsely imprisoned in federal prison for standing up for what they believe and refusing to cooperate with the pigs! Yes, this struggle is deeper than you may realize, but I’ve digressed. Let’s get back on point, shall we?

Ward Churchill and Jim Vanderwall gave us the blueprint for recognizing and identifying state repression aimed at “radical” left wing movements. “Agents of Repression: The FBI’s War Against the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement” is a phenomenal masterpiece.

As a New Afrikan Black Panther, I was drawn to the section of the book devoted to the Black Panthers and after reading the first 100 pages I almost put the book down. Upon closer inspection I started perusing the large section devoted to the FBI’s war against the American Indian Movement. I began to study the exhaustive research and notes the authors included. “No!” I said to myself. There was much more to be taught about state repression.

After studying the entire book, I saw Comrade Leonard Peltier in a completely different light. I know now that prison officials, FBI agents, Department of Homeland Security agents and even religious and spiritual leaders who portray themselves as friends of the movement will in fact conspire to harm those who have the ability to raise the consciousness of the lumpen-underclass.

Ward Churchill and Jim Vanderwall gave us the blueprint for recognizing and identifying state repression aimed at “radical” left wing movements.

Religion is a touchy subject, but I must clarify something: Not all religious leaders work for or with the oppressive imperialist regime. However, if you are a prisoner in the state of Texas, religious “programming” is used as a means to monitor, control, stifle and, in some cases like mine, eradicate the voice which speaks truth to power and cries out for freedom, justice and equality for all!

In respect to the End Prison Slavery in Texas Campaign, we reached out to many members of the clergy – not one positive reply! And remember, we are in close proximity to Dallas, Texas. Out of respect, I won’t put any of our mega-church “good brothers and sistas” on Front Street; I’ll just include a quote here from Manning Marable’s book, “How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America.” In a chapter entitled, “The Ambiguous Politics of the Black Church,” Marable said:

“The unwillingness to unite with Marxists and militant social democrats who expressed a sincere commitment to destroy racial segregation eliminated any possibility that the Civil Rights Movement would transcend its theoretical parochialism and develop a legitimate agenda to reconstruct the political economy of the United States.”

Hard lessons

Coffield Unit is the largest prison unit in Texas, and it was my intention to make Coffield the vanguard of the End Prison Slavery Campaign. Of the 89 prisoners who signed the original petition – a 1983 federal civil complaint – which challenges the constitutionality of the fraudulent good time/work time scheme in Texas, only one made it into the federal court for the Eastern District of Texas. I AM that one.

The mistake was made at the very beginning. No one who signed the original petition was instructed properly; therefore, we failed the people. I was able to correct this mistake and now we have hundreds of litigators and freedom fighters in federal court all over the state of Texas – and we are united in solidarity. In Texas, you must file a Step 1 (I-127) Form and Step 2 (I-128) Form before filing a 1983 federal civil complaint.

Hard Lesson No. 1: Do not assume the people on your legal team know all the procedures and rules. If you plan on entering federal court to challenge conditions of your confinement or unconstitutional actions by prison officials, you must exhaust all administrative remedies available to you.

In response to my legal and political organizing, the state reacted harshly but predictably. They first began denying every letter I received from Central Texas ABC and ABC paralegal services. Central Texas ABC has been aiding me with legal research and the distribution of legal and political materials.

Then TDCJ initiated a Security Threat Group investigation. They even went so far as to interrogate and threaten one of my closest comrades, all in an effort to disrupt the movement. While all this was going on, I was kept on H-wing, which is known to be one of the worst wings on Coffield Unit.

In response to my legal and political organizing, the state reacted harshly but predictably.

In this solitary confinement environment, I was literally starved during the month of Ramadan. I lost 20 pounds, and every day there were fires, floods in my cell with fecal matter and urine, and numerous suicide attempts on the wing. I’m sad to report that there have been a few successful suicide attempts here in Coffield’s notorious ad-seg unit. The preferred method of death has been strangulation by hanging.

I refused to succumb to the inhumane and tortuous conditions purposely visited upon me. On June 28, 2016, I arose from H-wing stronger and more determined than ever.

Hard Lesson No. 2: Retaliation is real and the pigs will play dirty. Know that right of the muscle!

Retaliation against those who fight for humyn and civil rights in Texas prisons is nothing new. While housed on H-wing, I made contact with a long-term Ad-seg prisoner named Freddie Fountain TDC #1640115. Freddie is an extremely skilled litigator. He has managed to file a Federal lawsuit challenging the conditions of confinement in ad-seg on the Coffield Unit. There are 109 ad-seg prisoners on Freddie’s lawsuit.

Freddie shared with me how TDCJ employees in the law library here on Coffield have thrown away pleadings and filings he had made with the federal court in the Eastern District of Texas. Freddie described how mail room employees at Coffield have blatantly opened his legal mail and have tampered with his incoming and outgoing mail numerous times.

Freddie told me how he has been denied showers, recreation and even food! He has undergone numerous degrading strip searches, all this done in an effort to discourage his freedom fighting and litigating.

Retaliation against those who fight for humyn and civil rights in Texas prisons is nothing new.

After a thorough investigation, I found five other prisoners including myself who had been subjected to retaliatory actions by TDCJ for them engaging in legal activities. A pattern has emerged. And now I am prepared to go public with my discovery.

Comrades, Freddie Fountain is a white man, not big in stature, but he has the heart of a lion and a wonderful legal mind. Freddie has no resources; he is indigent. Freddie is one of those unsung heroes and servants of the people you never hear about. Freddie has earned our $upport.

What’s next? Sept. 9

Comrades, the work stoppages on Sept. 9 have shocked the system! Amidst starvation tactics and ill treatment from the prisoncrats, we must stay strong. But we can’t strike forever. Is there anyone in Texas who will be willing to travel to the state capital in Austin, Texas, and present our demands?

Will the IWW and IWOC speak to the chairpersons of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, the House Committee on Corrections or the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence? Who will it be? Jennifer Erschabek, Erica Gammill, Joan Covici, Michael Jewell, Ray Hill, Hank Lamb, Holly Carmen? Or have you distanced yourself from us? Hello! Do you hear me?

Many in the mainstream movement do not understand the frustration and anger we feel. Some believe we should hold hands with the oppressor and sing cum-buy-yah! I’m sad to report to you that hasn’t worked. It is in the state’s interest to silence political prisoners, to prevent the public from listening to their words and understanding their actions.

Comrades, the work stoppages on Sept. 9 have shocked the system! Amidst starvation tactics and ill treatment from the prisoncrats, we must stay strong.

Comrades, when I first raised the alarm about arsenic in Wallace Park’s water supply, not one of the mainstream prisoner rights organizations would help me spread the word. Now all of a sudden everyone wants to talk about the scandal! Pretty amazing how things change.

I leave you with some words of wisdom from Comrade Assata Shakur: “If you are deaf, dumb and blind to what is happening in the world, you’re under no obligation to do anything. But if you know what’s happening and you don’t do anything but sit on your ass, then you’re nothing but a punk.”

Dare to struggle, dare to win. All power to the people.

Keith “Malik” Washington is deputy chairman of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter, Texas Region. Send our brother some love and light: Keith H. Washington, 1487958, Coffield Unit, 2661 FM 2054, Tennessee colony TX 75884.

Support freedom fighting prisoners. Order your T-shirts and hoodies at https://113670.spreadshirt.com/.

Support freedom fighting prisoners. Order your T-shirts and hoodies at https://113670.spreadshirt.com/.

Editor’s note: We join Malik in calling for support by our Bay View family of the Campaign to Amend the 13th Amendment by purchasing one of their new T-shirts or hoodies. Visit https://113670.spreadshirt.com/ to order and their new Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/.EndTexasPrisonAbuse/.

Malik also wants to let everyone know the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole denied his release on parole for the fifth time, on Aug. 3, 2016. “These people are trying to break my spirit, but by the grace of God and His strength – not my own – I remain unbreakable! Please ask the Bay View family to keep me lifted up in prayer, especially on Sept. 9.

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